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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Church of Nativity Standoff Ends; Agent Turned Spy Pays Price

Aired May 10, 2002 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Now on this special edition of WOLF BLITZER REPORTS, LIVE FROM JERUSALEM. They've left the Church of the Nativity. We'll go inside to see what they left behind. And as some militants head from the church into exile, others go to Gaza and are already getting guns for the next battle.

An agent-turned-spy pays the price. Who else is to blame for the darkest chapter in the FBI's history? I'll ask Ronald Kessler, best- selling author of "The Bureau."

Accused of planting pipe bombs in five states, he heads back to face the music. And, our children are flunking when it comes to the nation's history. Can we do any better?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who fought in the American revolution? Illinois, California, New York, or Texas?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: California.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, I don't think California was a state quite yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The five-week standoff is over. The massive cleanup is about to begin.

Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Jerusalem. Topping our news alert, they'll be worshipping at the Church of the Nativity on Sunday.

After more than five weeks, the standoff in Bethlehem is over. Palestinians today left the Church of the Nativity. And Israeli tanks left Manger Square. Thirteen alleged terrorists were flown to Cyprus, the start of an exile in Europe. Israel says they left explosives in the church, which is dirty, but not seriously deadly.

A bomb exploded near a bank in the southern Israeli city of Be'er Sheba today, injuring at least four people. Israeli police say terrorists either threw or planted the bomb. Two suspects were detained. He sold secrets to Moscow over a 20-year period. Today was payback time, as FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen was sentenced to life in prison without parole. After the hearing, the former agent apologized for his behavior, saying he was ashamed.

It was a long, nasty and sometimes bloody standoff. But it's finally over. CNN's chief international correspondent Walter Rodgers has a report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The evacuation of Palestinians from Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity was nearly perfectly scripted, in marked contrast to the awkward diplomatic maneuverings to end the standoff earlier this week. Each of the Palestinians voluntarily left his gun inside the church built over the site where Christian tradition holds Jesus was born.

But some of the men Israel accused of blatant acts of terror were defiant to the end. Others showed gunshot wounds suffered during Israel's five-and-a-half-week siege.

Thirteen Palestinians knew they were being exiled and would never see their homeland again if Israel has its way. Israel demanded those 13 deported. Exiled in Europe, they're now in Cyprus waiting for other countries to take them.

Twenty-six others face internal exile in Gaza. Many are under age 30.

Their families breathed, wept, and wailed. Deportation and exile are perceived worse than death by this people so attached to land. There never was a chance to say goodbye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I went to the Israelis and said, "Don't you have a mother? I just want to see him, for God's sakes."

RODGERS: Most of the Palestinians inside the church, however, those simply caught up in the rush to escape Israeli tanks five-and-a- half weeks ago, look forward to happier homecomings.

Bethlehem's Palestinians heaved the biggest sigh of relief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to see him and to hug him and to kiss him very, very much.

RODGERS: In what seemed a deliberate attempt to avoid humiliating Palestinians, Israeli soldiers stayed far back from the door of the Church of the Nativity. Men the Israeli government called terrorists, alleged engineers of suicide bombings, were treated by Israeli soldiers almost as worthy adversaries.

An Israeli brigadier general expressed a readiness to quickly evacuate his soldiers from Bethlehem. EIVAL GILADY, BRIGADIER GENERAL, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCE: I think we want to get out of here. Or I'd say we want to get free of the occupation more than they do.

RODGERS: When Palestinians left this church, it looked more lived in than damaged with plenty of debris and trash left about. And when the doors reopened, Bethlehem residents, Christians and Muslims, quickly came to inspect their shared landmark. Most precious, the grotto, said to be the birthplace of Jesus. It appeared to have suffered no damage.

(on camera): While this venerable church was not as badly damaged as originally feared, it will take some time to repair it. And it may be much, much longer before Christians feel comfortable enough to again return to Bethlehem on their pilgrimages.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, inside the Church of the Nativity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: At the heart of the Bethlehem deal, the exile of 13 suspected terrorists on Israel's most wanted list. And while they are now out of Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, their future is still very much unclear. They've been flown to Cyprus, where they await deportation to various European countries.

Greece is reportedly prepared to accept some of the militants. Italy and Spain are also expected to take some in. Other European Union members are being asked to do the same.

More than two dozen other Palestinian militants have returned from Bethlehem to Gaza. But as they say, they may be out of the frying pan, but they may be entering the fire as Israeli tanks mass along the border with Gaza.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): They received a hero's welcome when they arrived in Gaza, the 26 Palestinians who had been holed up inside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity for more than five weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Thankfully, we left one of our own cities and came to one of our own cities. And hopefully, we will return during better times when the circumstances are best.

BLITZER: But that joy in Gaza could quickly disappear if the Israeli army, as promised, launches a major strike in the coming hours or days.

In Rome for meetings with Italian officials, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres promised the operation would be limited in scope.

SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: We didn't have any enticement to conquer Gaza or something like it, but really to reach points where we have centers of terror. BLITZER: But there is already some debate within the Israeli military and intelligence establishment over the expected Gaza operation. For one thing, critics say there is still no conclusive evidence the Palestinian suicide bomber, who killed 15 Israelis Tuesday night and injured dozens of others, came from Gaza. There is some indication he may actually have come from the West Bank, where the Israeli military recently wrapped up a month-long incursion.

There is also concern that any Israeli operation in Gaza could result in numerous civilian casualties, given that the Palestinian refugee camps there have some of the highest concentrations of people anywhere in the world.

Beyond that, Palestinians in Gaza are clearly prepared to fight. They've had time to establish strong defenses, including, Palestinian sources say, an extensive complex of explosives and booby traps. Israeli military planners fear heavy Israeli casualties.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, meantime, attended Friday prayers in Ramallah, even as he's come under enormous pressure from the Bush administration to clamp down on terrorism and corruption in his Palestinian Authority and impose democratic reforms. Arafat welcomed the end of the Bethlehem standoff.

YASSER ARAFAT, CHAIRMAN, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: But what has been achieved is a really important step.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And bolstering speculation that the Israeli government may be having some second thoughts about launching an incursion into Gaza, just a little while ago the Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said on Israel television that the leaks to the news media from various cabinet ministers about the Gaza operation has caused a delay. We'll have more on this story, of course, as it continues to develop.

This important programming note, I'll be back live from Jerusalem tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for all the latest developments in the Middle East crisis, as well as the end of the Bethlehem stalemate.

Back in the United States, the FBI former agent Robert Hanssen was sentenced today to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He, of course, confessed to spying for Russia and the Soviet Union. Our national security correspondent David Ensor now takes a look at the man behind the headlines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Standing pale and gaunt in a green jailhouse jumpsuit, Robert Hanssen, Russia's 20-year mole inside the FBI, asked to speak. "I apologize for my behavior," he said. "I am shamed by it.

"Beyond its illegality, I have torn the trust of so many. Worse, I have opened the door for calumny against my totally innocent wife and our children." No member of Hanssen's family was in the room, officials said, when the judge sentenced him to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Later, Hanssen's lawyer was asked for many the central question about his espionage: why?

PLATO CACHERIS, ATTORNEY FOR ROBERT HANSSEN: There were a lot of complex reasons as to why he did it. I don't know that I want to get into them. What has been said is there were monetary reasons. There were ego reasons. There was a whole panoply of reasons. None of them are valid. Otherwise, he wouldn't be here today.

ENSOR: Hanssen's treason caused the death of several Russians spying for the U.S. He also gave away secrets about U.S. plans to preserve the nation's leadership in a nuclear war. His sentence, said prosecutors and the U.S. attorney, should be a warning to others.

PAUL MCNULTY, U.S. ATTORNEY: He was an expert at what it took to avoid being caught. And he was caught. And he was punished. And that's what will happen to anyone who betrays this country.

ENSOR: The warning comes after FBI officials told Congress last month there is still, quote, "a substantial risk" that a bureau insider could commit espionage undetected, though security safeguards are being upgraded soon.

Hanssen was taken away to serve a life sentence instead of death, even though some in U.S. intelligence argued Hanssen was not cooperative during his 75 days of interrogation so far. Some analysts said the spy is lucky the deal was made last summer and not later.

DAVID VISE, AUTHOR, "THE BUREAU AND THE MOLE": If it had come after September 11, there is no way Hanssen could have made this deal. He would be facing the death penalty now, rather than life in prison.

ENSOR (on camera): Through the plea agreement for a life sentence, Hanssen avoided execution. And the government avoided a public trial where it would have been obliged to reveal secrets and embarrassing FBI mistakes. There was something in the deal for both sides.

David Ensor, CNN, the courthouse in Alexandria.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The Hanssen case, of course, raises many questions about the FBI and its ability to root out potential traitors. Ronald Kessler is the author of the brand new book "The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI." He joins us now live from New York.

Ron, thanks for joining us. Is there a widespread assumption that there's probably another Robert Hanssen buried inside the bureau right now?

RONALD KESSLER, AUTHOR, "THE BUREAU: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE FBI": I think if you look at the whole history of espionage in this country, you always have to realize that there are going to be other spies out there who are not caught. whether they're in the FBI, the CIA, Defense Department, White House. It would be naive to think otherwise.

BLITZER: There's a lot of speculation that Hanssen, even at this late moment, even in getting life without parole, did not necessarily come completely clean in telling the interrogators everything he knows. What's your sense?

KESSLER: Well, the FBI was confident that he did tell everything he knew, and that he did pass a polygraph test to their satisfaction. I would go with them. I think they're very good at testing the credibility of people. He apparently, of course, didn't remember many things.

Well, welcome to the club. It would be hard to remember, especially given his very compartmented life. Between his kinky sex life and his spying and his working for the FBI, it would be very hard to remember all the details of what he did.

BLITZER: Ron, you probably know more about the FBI than any other journalist out there. You've been covering the story for so many years.

One of the things you write in the book "The Bureau," you write this: "Freeh as usual," referring to Louis Freeh, the former FBI director, "claimed responsibility but blamed everyone else. Self- righteous and sanctimonious, Freeh never admitted a personal mistake. He never pointed out his own role in the McVeigh debacle."

You write some nasty things about Louis Freeh. We contacted him today to get his reaction, though we didn't hear back from him. Was he that bad?

KESSLER: Well, you'll notice that most of the material about Freeh comes from the people in the bureau whom he promoted, including people who were deputy directors of the FBI. And for the first time, they are telling the real story.

The bureau is very loyal to the director, as I found when I revealed the fact that William Sessions was engaging in abuses. Even though they're supposed to uphold the law, agents don't want to rat on the FBI director. And that's what happened in this case.

Over and over again, Freeh made the wrong decisions...

BLITZER: Let me read...

KESSLER: ... go ahead.

BLITZER: ... let me read one other excerpt from the book that sparked my interest. Referring to September 11, you write: "In retrospect, despite the wiliness of the hijackers and the difficulty of penetrating al Qaeda, the FBI with the right focus and commitment could have done far more." What else could they have done? KESSLER: They really had not focused properly on this organization. Their computers were a total wreck. They couldn't keep track of information if they had it. And, again, I went back to Louis Freeh. He had a great aversion to technology. He, in fact, didn't use e-mail himself. And so the computers were never updated. And they were so bad that even churches would not accept them as donations.

So, when September 11th happened, first of all, they didn't have the information. But second of all, when it happened, the response was very, very slow because they couldn't rely on the computers. And so they sent three teams out of agents out to interview one person when only one team was needed. Or vice versa, nobody was sent because they would have to fax, they would make calls, they couldn't rely on the computer systems.

BLITZER: Ronald Kessler, he's the author of the new book "The Bureau." This note, he'll back with me Sunday on "Late Edition." We'll continue this conversation then, Ron. Thanks so much for joining us.

And our web question of the day is this. Do you think Robert Hanssen's sentence is appropriate? Vote at cnn.com/wolf. That's my web page. While you're there, let me know what you're thinking. Send me your comments. I'll read some of them on the air every day at the end of this program. That's also, of course, where you can read my daily on-line column, cnn.com/wolf.

And in a moment, facing the music, why the confessed mailbox bomber heads to where the crime spree began. And Letterman, Koppel, even Walters, big names, big battles, find out what angered a top TV executive.

And later...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Illinois, California?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Illinois.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Illinois?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. New York?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which part of the government...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Don't know much about history? Don't worry, you're not alone. Our CNN crew finds students aren't the only ones failing the test. See if you can answer today's "News Quiz."

During today's news quiz, a question from the national history test given to students in the eighth grade. During the Revolutionary War, one outcome of the colonial victory at the Battle of Saratoga that helped ensure the final defeat of the British was the, A, entrance of France on the American side, B, recapture of New York City from the British, C, mutiny of the British forces under General Howe, D, defeat of British forces at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The answer coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'll have much more on the crisis here in the Middle East coming up, including a live interview with a priest who spent five weeks inside the Church of the Nativity during that standoff. But now, let's get some other news with my friend and colleague Daryn Kagan. She's standing by at the CNN Center in Atlanta -- Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And, Wolf, it's a pleasure to see you on this Friday afternoon and evening there.

Let's begin with the accused mailbox bomber. That is Luke Helder. He is being transferred today from Nevada to Iowa. That is one of several states where he allegedly planted pipe bombs in mailboxes.

He is scheduled to appear in a Cedar Rapids courtroom later today. And that's where we find out Jeff Flock -- Jeff, hello.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Daryn, in less than three hours' time, you see the afternoon sun here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And behind me, perhaps you see the federal courthouse. We're perched at the back here along the Red Cedar River. This is where Luke Helder is expected to be brought when he arrives in town.

We've got the latest pictures of him as he departed Reno, the federal lockup there, wearing a white jumpsuit, making his way into a federal vehicle where he now is presumably winging his way from there to here, about 1,500 miles. And, again, he is slated to appear here 7:00 local time. That's 8:00 Eastern in the courthouse behind me.

Just an initial appearance, not expecting a whole lot out of it, not expecting a plea. He'll simply face those two counts in connection with the Iowa cases.

He spent a good bit of this day talking to legal experts about what he might do in terms of defense. Obviously, there's a lot of evidence detailed from the government's case so far already.

In terms of defense, they pointed number one to the map of the arrests and the notion that if it was true that he was indeed trying to paint a smiley face on the U.S. map with the mailbox bombs that he planted, that perhaps that's a good jumping off point for an insanity defense. Other experts we talked to, however, say it's going to be a hard row to hoe to prove that. So, it's not going to be easy however he goes.

That's the latest from here. We'll let you know how it turns out. Back to you, Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, Jeff, we go from Iowa then to Florida, that for more now on Rilya Wilson. She's that 5-year-old little girl who slipped through the cracks in the system and disappeared more than a year ago.

Our national Susan Candiotti has some new developments involving DNA and a polygraph test.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Surprising even those involved in the case, the man leading the investigation disclosed two key witnesses failed parts of a lie detector test. Police say Rilya Wilson's legal caretakers, who last saw the youngster more than 16 months ago, show deception. However, the areas they failed did not bear on the missing girl's whereabouts.

CARLOS ALVAREZ, DIRECTOR, MIAMI-DADE POLICE: We've talked to this lady for a number of hours. And we really don't know what's true and what's not.

CANDIOTTI: Geralyn Graham told police she turned over Rilya to a woman who called herself a social worker who wanted to run some tests. Graham denies any involvement.

GERALYN GRAHAM, RILYA WILSON'S CARETAKER: I've never done anything violent in my life. I have never been involved in anything violent in my life. I would never hurt her.

CANDIOTTI: Graham's attorney says when both women voluntarily took the lie detector test, they had just been briefed about a possible link to a murder case in Kansas City.

EDWARD SHOHAT, ATTORNEY: She was extraordinarily upset. And I questioned the reliability of any polygraph test administered at or about the time that that news was delivered.

CANDIOTTI: Kansas City police have now ruled out any link between the unsolved murder of Precious Doe and Rilya Wilson. DNA tests comparing the two cases proved negative. In Kansas City, disappointment.

DAVE BERNARD, DETECTIVE, KANSAS CITY POLICE: There's not much I can say today that's going to bring anybody's spirits up. But I can say that the investigation still goes on.

CANDIOTTI: In Florida, renewed hope Rilya Wilson is still alive. But police are frustrated.

ALVAREZ: The more people we talk to that aren't involved in this case, that supposedly saw the child, we have found out that they haven't been quite honest with us and are withholding some information and maybe telling us some things that really didn't happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has just announced at $25,000 reward for information about this case. But what's stunning to police is that despite all the publicity, not one person has come forward to say that they have seen Rilya, Daryn.

KAGAN: Still so many questions about that little girl and now still the little girl in Kansas City. Susan Candiotti, thank you very much.

CANDIOTTI: You're welcome.

KAGAN: And let's go back to Wolf in Jerusalem -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Daryn. We'll be back later with more news from the CNN Center.

Meanwhile, upcoming, a brutal beating. A U.S. serviceman is held in a gruesome attack on a female shipmate. Also, outrage over these pictures in Japan. We'll tell you what the commotion is all about. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In our news alert, a train wreck in the Czech Republic today killed an engineer and injured several American soldiers. A train carrying U.S. troops and equipment to a military exercise collided with a freight train. The engineer of the freight train died. Fourteen U.S. soldiers were hurt, but they're all expected to survive.

These pictures are producing outrage in Japan. They show Chinese police entering the grounds of a Japanese consulate in China and dragging out some apparent North Korean asylum seekers. Japan is demanding China release those who were seized.

President Bush hopes the end of the siege at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity will help the Middle East peace process. The five- week standoff concluded with an agreement allowing 13 Palestinian militants to go into exile. Mr. Bush today thanked the European Union for its help in the negotiations.

People all over the world followed the dramatic standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. But some people had a very, very personal stake. Those people have loved ones inside the church.

Our Carol Lin takes a closer look now from Bethlehem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The hours dragged on for the Rahal (ph) family. The wait was agonizing. Raghida Rahal (ph) imagines the worst about her husband and his brother. She says she worries they might have problems with the Israeli troops when they're released.

After 10 long hours, the phone rings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

LIN: It turns out the two brothers, trapped inside the Church of the Nativity for more than a month, were now held up on an Israeli army bus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So that's what he had from his brother, who was on the bus. He told him, he instructed him not to go anywhere, to stay in the house, wait for them at home, because he does not want his brother to break the curfew and go anywhere.

LIN: But Wai Rahal (ph), the oldest son, and his mother rush to the drop point anyway. The Rahal family is finally reunited, one brother at a time.

An Israeli border guard looks on as dozens of families cry in the streets. Back at home, the father is waiting. And so is Kusai Rajold's (ph) wife and 10-month-old son. More than five weeks ago, this dental technician was delivering supplies with his brother near Manger Square when they were shoved into the church by a crowd of people running from Israeli troops.

Vaha Rahal (ph), a 22-year-old student, lost 20 pounds after weeks of eating rice and lemon leaves. Every day, he thought he might die in the crossfire. "The Israeli troops tried to provoke the gunmen to shoot from the inside," he says, but the gunmen were committed to the sanctity of the holy shrine.

His brother, Kusai, insist the gunmen only fired to keep Israelis from storming in. The brothers say the experience has only strengthened their commitment to a Palestinian homeland and that their time in the church is their service to that cause. Carol Lin, CNN, Bethlehem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Father Amjad Sabara is a Latin priest. He lives inside the Church of the Nativity. He was there during the five-week standoff. Father Sabara joins us now live on the phone.

Father, tell us what it was like for you during those five weeks.

AMJAD SABARA, LATIN PRIEST LIVING INSIDE CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY: It was, you know, an experience where we have got an experience of lacking of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that has gone out after eight days. Lacking supporters, lacking of eating that we have arrived Sunday, to eat also from the from our garden.

BLITZER: Father, excuse me. Let me interrupt you for a second. If you could speak -- Father, if you could speak up directly into the phone a little bit, we'll hear you better. Go ahead.

SABARA: OK. As I said, you know, it was past weeks of suffering, like I said, because it was a siege all over the compound where we have got some days that we were eating like a leaf of lemons and other things. But thank God, this experience has (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: When the Palestinian gunmen first entered the Church of the Nativity, what were they trying to do keeping you inside, because the Israelis said you, in effect, the priest, the nuns, the monks, who lived there were being held hostage by the gunmen.

SABARA: No, as we have said from the beginning of this crisis, you know, that nobody was a hostage of nobody, because, you know, during this five weeks, we have sent friars from here to Jerusalem because they were ill. And we didn't ask the permission of nobody. And this situation, as I mentioned until the end till today when (UNINTELLIGIBLE) finished all this crisis.

BLITZER: So what do you do now, Father? How much damage is there to the Church of the Nativity? Will you be able to worship there on Sunday?

SABARA: Yes. We will begin tomorrow to clean everything, the Basilica, and all the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and all the buildings where we have got the damage. And we are going to have, I think, a big mass and a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) mass Sunday for all the parish and for all the people just to pray and thank God for this crisis that finished in a good way and a peaceful way.

BLITZER: Father Amjad Sabara, congratulations to you and to all of your friends and colleagues who've survived, obviously, this very difficult ordeal. And good luck to you. We'll be looking forward to that mass on Sunday. Thank you very much.

CNN will have special coverage on Sunday from Bethlehem as well.

Coming up, behind the scenes in late-night television. Find out what the president of ABC really thinks about big-name stars like Ted Koppel and Barbara Walters. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. There's a horrible crime that's been alleged involving a U.S. Marine and a female shipmate aboard a ship in the Arabian Sea. Let's get some details from our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. He's standing by.

First of all, Jamie, was it the Arabian Sea?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, no. Actually, it was near -- it's in port at Thailand now. This was a particularly gruesome assault. A U.S. Marine sergeant is being held on the Navy ship, Bonghom Rashard (ph), in port in Thailand charged with the brutal rape of a female shipmate. The unidentified Marine is accused of beating and biting the woman, who was found unclothed on a beach at the resort island of Phuket with serious bite marks on her face. Part of her nose was missing, apparently bitten off by the Marine.

According to witnesses, the Marine appeared to be drunk and even fought off people on the beach who tried to come to the aid of the woman. She -- her wounds are said not to be life threatening, and she's going to be flown to San Diego for further treatment. The Marine, again, who's not been identified, is sitting on the brig on that ship, the USS Bonghom Rashard, facing a court-martial. BLITZER: That is a shocking and brutal story. Thank you very much, Jamie. But while I have you, there's another developing story you're getting for us involving the U.S. troops at the Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia. Tell us about that.

MCINTYRE: Yeah, well, this one's a real mystery. The question is: Did somebody get close enough to the air base with a shoulder fire surface-to-air missile that they might have been able to shoot down a U.S. plane. It looks that way on the surface, but U.S. military authorities aren't exactly clear. The central command says a missile tube from a shoulder-fired SA-7 was found by a Saudi patrol inside a security fence just a few miles away from where U.S. planes regularly take off and land.

Now the blast marks on this tube make it look like it was used sometime recently, but it is -- there's no evidence it actually fired a missile. The cover is still intact, which wouldn't be the case if it fired a missile, and no missile was found. In addition, nobody saw or heard anything that would resemble an SA-7 missile firing. So they're not sure what happened. It may have misfired. That empty tube might have been left there simply to intimidate the Americans, or maybe somebody did penetrate the security and come close enough to shoot down a U.S. plane even though it was several miles away from where the runway is. There are a lot of planes that fly in and out of there slower, cargo planes are refueling planes. They would have been very vulnerable to an attack from this kind of shoulder-fired missile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thank you very much.

And when we come back, former president Clinton speaks out about all those stories that he might want to become the next Oprah. Was he truly interested in becoming a talk show, a daytime talk show host? You'll hear directly from Bill Clinton.

And why was the president of Walt Disney angered by Ted Koppel and Barbara Walters? And some comic relief here in the Middle East crisis. Some unexpected advice from an Israeli soldier coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. In recent weeks, there's been a lot of chatter about daytime talk shows, especially former president Bill Clinton who met only the other day with some NBC executives possibly about doing an Oprah-like talk show. Well, earlier today, Bill Clinton spoke directly with Tavis Smiley of National Public Radio about all of those reports.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I would consider it. No, I really don't know, because, look, I spend more than half my time right now on public service, and I've got a book to write, and I've got to finish raising money for my library. And most of the time, I've done over 120 events. So I don't know if I could do this. This would radically change my life, but I would talk about it. But there's -- nobody's made an offer or accepted or rejected, or I haven't walked away or walked toward anything. This was just a conversation that got blown out of proportion, and then both NBC and I think got tagged in a way that wasn't quite right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit more about late- night talk shows. Remember all of those battles we heard about between Ted Koppel and "Nightline" and Dave Letterman? Well, David Margolick in "Vanity Fair" has a major new article telling us all of the to and fro behind the scenes. He joins me now live to talk about all of that.

What really happened there in that battle between Ted Koppel and Robert Iger, the president of ABC?

DAVID MARGOLICK, "VANITY FAIR": Well, you really had, you know, two big corporations going head to head on this, Wolf. And there was a complicated relationship between Ted Koppel and Bob Iger of Disney. They were very close in some ways. They had an intense and personal relationship. But Iger has a company and a network to run, and he had to be careful not to give Ted Koppel something that he wasn't prepared to give other people.

BLITZER: One of the things you do write in the "Vanity Fair" article is this: "Neither of us got everything we wanted, but we all have something we're comfortable with." That was Ted Koppel speaking about the outcome. Did he get a hard and fast commitment for two years that "Nightline" would stay on the air?

MARGOLICK: Apparently, there's a secret agreement. There was a public statement in which no amount of time was actually specified. But in some secret rider to the agreement, that was never made public. The commitment was apparently for two years. Of course, this came after Iger was, you know, publicly willing to express a willingness to let Koppel go in favor of David Letterman, which of course, caused a great cataclysm at the network and within ABC's news division.

BLITZER: There's also a flap in there between Robert Iger and another huge star at "ABC News," Barbara Walters. Let me read from your article. You're quoting Bob Iger. "Go on any street corner and say what you like, even if it's about the company you work for... Write an op-ed in the 'New York Times,' appear on 'Larry King' if you want. But to use one of our own programs to do that? That was, in my opinion, far worse than what was done to her on Friday night," referring to "The View" and her discussion of the entire flap over "Nightline." That's what you're talking about there, right, David?

MARGOLICK: Yeah, I think that's right. I think that, you know, there's a certain impatience at these corporations now. These are poor economic times, and I think that they want to bring their stars to rein in a little. They want to rein in their stars a little bit. And I think that they were a little bit fed up with Barbara Walters for making that statement. What Barbara said was that she defended Ted Koppel and defended "Nightline" but she went on a Disney program to do it. And I think that that was a little bit too much for Bob Iger and he said so.

BLITZER: Is ABC really trying to give Peter Jennings a pay cut?

MARGOLICK: Well, the stories are that they're trying to bring him down a couple of million dollars. I mean, when you consider whether it's going to be $10 million or $8 million, it's, you know -- it almost seems like an academic point. But Peter Jennings has something in his contract providing that he gets one dollar a year more than anybody else at ABC. So, obviously, there's a lot of ego involved here, more than just dollars and cents.

BLITZER: David Margolick used to write for the "New York Times." He now writes for "Vanity Fair." Next time, we'll talk about the situation here in the Middle East.

David, you've written a great deal about that, one of the best pieces on Benjamin Netanyahu. You wrote it. I remember reading it. And, of course, we'll be reading a lot more about him this Sunday when the Israeli Likud Party convenes to discuss their political future. Netanyahu, by the way, will be a special guest on "Late Edition" Sunday. That's at noon Eastern. David, thanks for joining us.

And when we come back, do you think you know enough about America history? Coming up, Daryn Kagan puts some of your peers to the test, the same test many high schoolers took and failed.

Also, the surprising bit of advice an Israeli soldier gave me. That's all coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Earlier, we asked a question from the National History Test given to students in the 8th grade: During the Revolutionary War, one outcome of the colonial victory at the Battle of Saratoga that helped ensure the final defeat of the British was? And the answer (a) entrance of France on the American side. Forty-one percent of 8th graders answered that question correctly on the national test.

More from Jerusalem in just a moment. Let's go back to Daryn Kagan now for some other news -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Wolf, I bet you were the kind of student in high school that just loved history and political science? Is that right?

BLITZER: That is correct, I did.

KAGAN: I'm not going to use the word, "geek," but I bet you did. OK, listen in. Not too many Wolf Blitzers out there right now. A recent survey suggested many high school students have a poor grasp of U.S. history, and so that led us to the question: What about the rest of us? We're not all as sharp as Wolf, apparently. To find out, I took a camera crew right downstairs to the atrium of CNN Center here in Atlanta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KAGAN: Were Jim Crow laws about making liquor illegal, enforcing racial segregation, restricting immigration, or protecting the environment? What were Jim Crow laws about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Immigration.

KAGAN: About immigration?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

KAGAN: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was about racial problems.

KAGAN: And segregation. Which part of the government of your U.S. federal government makes the law, is responsible for passing the laws? Four choices. It is the president, the Supreme Court, Congress, or the State Department? Who passes laws?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congress.

KAGAN: Who passes them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congress.

KAGAN: You guys both got that one right. That's good.

Which one of these 13 colonies fought in the American Revolution? I'll give you four choices. Illinois, California, New York or Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say Illinois.

KAGAN: You say Illinois. OK, American Revolution, 1700s.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

KAGAN: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe Texas then. Change it to Texas.

KAGAN: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't even recall all of the original 13.

KAGAN: Which one of these sounds like it could be one of the 13 original colonies? Illinois, California, New York or Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Either Texas or Illinois. I'm not sure which of those two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Illinois.

KAGAN: Illinois.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New York.

KAGAN: Very good. The answer is New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirteen colonies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: And see, Wolf, that was the thing. It was the question about the 13 colonies that stumped almost everybody that we talked to. But I have to say on the positive side, everybody did get the question about who passes the laws. They did not it was Congress. They didn't say, like, State Department or Supreme Court.

BLITZER: That was very impressive. Daryn, I was amazed that everybody got that one right.

I want our viewers to know that you were a geek, too. Not only are you beautiful, you got into Stanford University out of high school, so you obviously have a lot going on. I'm not the only geek on CNN. Daryn Kagan is a geek as well.

KAGAN: Geek, capital G, capital G right here.

BLITZER: Thanks for helping me all week. We're going to be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jan Hopkins is sitting in for Lou Dobbs. Has a quick preview of "LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE" that begins at the top of the hour -- Jan.

JAN HOPKINS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. Coming up on "MONEYLINE," Israel prepares for a strike in Gaza following Tuesday's deadly suicide attack. We'll have the latest from the Middle East. On Wall Street, stocks capped off a losing week despite Wednesday's stunning rally. We'll have our weekly Wall Street panel. All of that and much more starting at the top of the hour. Back to Wolf in Jerusalem.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jan.

And covering the Middle East can have its lighter moments. Here, quickly take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, good afternoon. BLITZER: How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need help with something.

BLITZER: Yeah.

(voice-over): A memorable moment from my past few days in the Middle East. Here's an exchange with an Israeli soldier as we attempted to get through a checkpoint.

(on-camera): My name is Wolf Blitzer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi.

BLITZER: How are you? From CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi.

BLITZER: What's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't give you that.

BLITZER: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know who you are.

BLITZER: OK, good. We're just visiting for a week or two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome.

BLITZER: Thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should know, first of all, you should be wearing a hat, not for religious reasons, but the sun is very much hotter here than...

BLITZER: Fortunately, I'm covered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Second of all, you have to drink every 15 minutes.

BLITZER: That's water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's about enough for -- I'd finish that in about 20 minutes.

BLITZER: Really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I carry about six times as much.

BLITZER (voice-over): So there you have it, an Israeli soldier pretending to be my mother.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Lot of Jewish mothers in this part of the world. Well, that's all the time we have today. I'll be back Sunday. Special edition of "Late Edition" live from Jerusalem. Among my guests, the Israeli defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. "LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE" begins right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



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